Games People Play: Competitive Cyclist Frank Cooper, Monrovia, ca. 1897

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Yesterday, BikeSGV, an advocacy group for cycling in the San Gabriel Valley (to learn more about the organization, click here), held a ride from the Homestead to Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights.  This seems like a good time to highlight a rare photograph from the museum’s collection relating to early bicycling in our region.

At the end of the 19th century, bicycling took America by storm as leisurely and competitive rides became a major activity for fun, exercise, and sport.  The photograph mentioned above is a circa 1897 cabinet card photograph of a competitive cyclist, Frank Cooper of Monrovia, with his machine.  A little research on Cooper came up with a few interesting results.

Cooper was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, a town in the southeast part of the state, where his father, George, was an insurance agent.  The family migrated to California and settled in Monrovia, founded during the Boom of the 1880s, where George set up an apiary (bee raising) business and which he operated for several decades at a time when beekeeping was very popular in greater Los Angeles.

Listings of entrants, including 19-year old Frank Cooper of Monrovia, in a series of Fourth of July cycling races, including one from downtown Los Angeles to the coast at Santa Monica, Los Angeles Herald, 3 July 1897.

Frank’s career as a competitive cyclist appears to have been quite short with only one located example of his racing.  In early July 1897, Cooper entered an annual Fourth of July road race that took place on the 3rd from downtown Los Angeles, starting at Sixth and San Pedro streets and heading south on San Pedro and west on Washington Street all the way to the coast.  Later that day, he competed in a mile-long race as well as a one hundred yard dash.

Results of the ride from Los Angeles to Santa Monica, in which Cooper finished twelfth, Los Angeles Times, 4 July 1897.

The published standings for the long ride to Santa Monica show that Cooper placed twelfth out of fifty-nine finishers, completing the course in 53 minutes and 28 seconds, a little under four minutes behind winner Carson Shoemaker of Riverside.  In the novice mile race, Cooper came in second of ten riders with the winning time being 2:37.  There is no record of how he did in the hundred yard dash, however.

This cabinet card photograph from the Homestead’s collection, is labeled on the reverse “Frank Cooper / Monrovia” and likely dates from 1897, when he competed in the Fourth of July races.

No other examples have been found of Cooper competing in racing events, yet he did have his photo taken with his bike, presumably at the time of the 1897 race.

Later in life, Cooper married and went to work in the oil industry, working as a well driller for the Southern Pacific railroad company near Fresno, then in Santa Paula, and as well at Montebello.  By the mid-1930s, he changed professions and became a chauffeur while living in the Glassell Park area of northeast Los Angeles.  In 1940, Cooper was residing in Upland and working as a lineman for the Los Angeles Department of Power and Light and remained there until his death in 1946 at age 69.




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